How I got started in my jewelry business
I knew one thing when I chose my major in college - I was NOT going to be an artist. My father, who passed away a few years ago, was a deeply gifted abstract painter and watching his struggles made me feel pretty sure I didn’t want to go down the same path. I sort of closed my eyes and chose education as my major, thinking that since I liked kids, I could be a teacher. It became clear after student teaching that being a teacher wasn’t what I wanted, but I graduated with no clear idea and a degree that was basically useless to me. I realized that, while I am very outgoing in small doses, I am underneath it all a giant introvert and that wouldn’t work for a classroom teacher. My respect for school teachers is immense, but it wasn’t for me. But if not, what was ?
I had a deep desire to figure out my passion, but it seemed to elude me. I felt like I was so interested in so many things, and I couldn’t seem to focus. I spent a few years after college waiting tables (ask me about Captain George’s All You Can Eat Seafood Buffet sometime!) and just trying things out, dabbling in hobbies and feeling more and more lost. I felt like I was the one person in the world who had no idea what they wanted, and I had a real sense of shame about it.
As a part of my search for fulfillment, I took a part time job at a local craft gallery in Norfolk, Virginia. It was a beautiful place that featured higher end handmade functional crafts from nationally successful artists. I saw that there were actually a lot of artists who made a living, and I got to see how they ran their businesses from the point of view of a retailer. I was especially drawn to the jewelry, and I began to familiarize myself with a lot of different artists. Suddenly I saw that being an artist might be possible in a different way from what my Dad had experienced, and i liked the idea of making something that people could wear.
I got a book on how to make a few very elementary jewelry crafts (this was before the internet, folks, when people learned things from books. ) I took the techniques for making this flower necklace out of those stained glass blobs people put in the bottom of flower vases and some solder, and I started playing around with making something else with the techniques. I was instantly hooked, it was so deeply interesting to me. I suddenly had the sense that I was good at something, something that I wanted to keep exploring and wanted to know everything about. I remember choosing to work on jewelry while my friends were all drinking and hanging out in the next room, that had never happened with any other interest I had had! It was amazing to finally feel like my life had some purpose and direction.
I wore a pair of my earrings to my hair appointment, and they asked if I wanted to put a few pairs in the salon. At the same time, the boutique where my friend worked asked the same thing. I made some more as fast as I could, and I was in business before I knew anything besides that one technique. However, due to my work in the gallery, I knew how to go about selling and was able to take advantage of the offers right away. Looking back, those pieces were embarrassingly bad, but the lesson is - get started! Somehow, they sold and I put all my meager earnings back into more materials and kept selling.
Then I just began to learn whatever I could. I learned how to cut stained glass from another book so that I could incorporate cut pieces of glass into the designs. I took a weekend workshop on soldering sterling silver at the local rec center, and I loved it. I began to collect tools here and there with the idea of eventually having a soldering set up. I met an artist’s rep who got my stained glass stuff into some more stores, and I kept putting the money back into the business, meanwhile waiting tables and basically working nonstop. I did my first local craft fair and suddenly I felt sure of what I wanted to do - I was a jewelry artist, and that was that.
I was living in Virginia at this time, and I decided I wanted to move to Seattle. I had no job lined up, and very little savings, but I was young and brave. Once I moved, I continued to wait tables (ask me about carrying huge trays of margaritas through a crowd of sweaty salsa dancers sometime!) and sell my work at a weekend outdoor art market called the Fremont Market. I took a metalworking class at North Seattle Community college so that I could practice my soldering, and also a weekend workshop on glass bead making. I was fascinated by the process of working with hot glass, and I once again took all my profits and bought more equipment. I now had bead making equipment, stained glass equipment, and a very basic soldering setup in a room the size of a large closet, and I kept experimenting. I decided that I wanted to bezel set glass pieces using my metal working skills, and so I eventually sold my bead-making stuff and bought my first kiln and glass grinder.
I had no real idea how to use the kiln, so I volunteered at a local glassblower’s studio and in exchange, he taught me a few things about glass making, although he said he didn’t know how to do what I had in mind exactly. I began to experiment with making my own glass, learning some things from books but mostly just trial and error until I came up with making my own glass in the way I still do today. My technique was all my own and I worked hard to find my own style. My work was improving, and I began to get into bigger and better shows and find a wider audience. I was working 7 days a week and I was growing my business little by little, customer by customer. I finally took the plunge to full time jewelry artist in about 2000, but I started making jewelry in 1993.
It was a long road, and I still feel like I am on it, with no finish line in sight. I’m always trying to figure out how to balance it all - motherhood, making all the work, marketing, and all the rest. The internet allows me to reach more folks, and I truly believe that doing what I love has paid off for me, although it is by no means easy. I’m glad that I didn’t just ignore my soul asking me to find my true calling, and I’m even more glad I ended up being the one thing I wasn’t going to be- an artist.